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Struggling with developer turnover? You’re not alone.

Stack Overflow’s 2017 developer survey found that 75% of developers are either actively looking for new jobs or “open to new opportunities.” With those findings and ever-growing competition for the best technical expertise, it’s more important than ever for engineering managers to focus on employee retention.

The Cost of Losing a Developer

It can be tough to pin down the monetary cost of losing a developer. A study by SHRM found that every time a company replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary. To replace an experienced programmer making $120,000/year would cost $60,000 to $90,000 in recruiting and training expenses alone, not to mention the knowledge loss that happens when a key team member leaves a company.

What Causes Developer Turnover?

You might be tempted to throw higher salaries or perks at your development team to get them to stay. Not so fast! A study published in the Journal of Information Technology Management found that the biggest reason for a developer to voluntarily quit wasn’t lack of pay or benefits. Instead, developers dissatisfied with their “nature of work” were most likely to consider leaving their current jobs.

How to Infuse Work With Meaning

If you want your team to view their work as a positive force in their lives, not just a job, focus on these three areas:

1. Stimulation: Learning New Skills and Mastering New Tools

Even with the best intentions, it’s not easy to keep your development team satisfied with their work. Most managers know their team needs to stay technically challenged, but actually keeping them challenged is — well, challenging.

So, set aside time for your team to try out new technologies that interest them. Here at Very, we’ve adopted Google’s 80/20 rule to give developers the space and time to pursue their passions. Our developers work four days/week on client work, and Fridays are reserved for internal work, learning new tools, or pursuing pet projects. 

If you can’t allot that much time, think about hosting a hackathon or simply giving your team the freedom to explore different approaches to the “core” projects they’re working on.

2. Autonomy: Having a Say in Product Decisions

In last year’s Stack Overflow developer survey, more than 44% of respondents said that having control over product decisions is a major contributing factor to job satisfaction. That’s easy enough when projects are humming along. But when your team hits a roadblock, you might have the impulse to micromanage..

Instead, establish high-level parameters and give your developers the freedom to attack projects in their own way. Sometimes they’ll fail. When that happens, resist the urge to add more process and control. Instead, build a team of developers you can trust and give them the freedom to contribute to your success.

3. Connection: Building Things People Will Use

Your team needs to know that their inputs lead to outcomes. It gives their work meaning and purpose. More than 58% of developers say one of the most satisfying aspects their job is getting to see real customers use what they build. If your current team complains about barriers to building new features or products, think about how you can create opportunities for your team to ship more code.